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The body is an incredible, organic machine; its ability to function with such precision from the moment of birth, to protect itself mostly from the intrusion of serious disease, is nearly impossible to contemplate. And yet each of us is blessed not only with this unbelievable organism, but with a mind and soul that enriches our lived experience.
Most of my life, I was blessed with a very healthy body, all the necessary organs and usual appendages, and a relatively well-functioning mind. My soul was not well-maintained for a long time, but it’s making progress—as my other systems begin to deteriorate. I found for a very long time that I appreciated my good health as I looked at people around me who suffered from colds (only had one or two in my life), the flu (which I’ve known on rare occasions), broken bones and sprained ankles (never had any of those either) and various other maladies and inconveniences. I led a life of moderation: moderate exercise, moderate food splurges, moderate exploits. Boy, was I one lucky gal.
But one day I was at a Zen retreat, and before it began, I was telling a friend how lucky I was to have the body with which I was blessed. And he responded by saying, “But you’re still young.” He was right, and the truth of his statement pierced my life-long self-perception.
In the last couple of years, my perceptions of, and expectations for, myself have been compromised. I’ve been through breast cancer, and once I went through the chemotherapy treatment, all kinds of difficulties have arisen. No one will convince me that putting toxins/poisons into my body did not change the delicate balance of my living systems. The peripheral neuropathy in my hands and feet; the onset of polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), an inflammatory disease that refuses to yield to a steady, year-long diet of prednisone (which, of course, has instigated other conditions); and various other maladies that have shown up without explanation.
When it comes to my mind, it has slowed down but is still relatively sharp. I dread the impairment that may come with the upcoming years, but I will do everything I can to stay sharp. Crossword puzzles and chocolate chip cookies are a great resource. Did I say cookies? I do worry that one day my thinking may decline enough that I won’t be able to contribute to my work with @iwe. That is hopefully a long way off, but I’d be devastated by that development.
And finally, the condition of my soul. That is one area that I feel has come a long way. Intimacy with my husband and my friends, closeness to G-d, connection with my faith (not as consistent as I would like), all seem to be on solid ground.
So when I reflect on my daily life, I’ve struggled to find a way to hold it in a way that is loving, thoughtful, and kind to myself. Since I am my own worst critic, these attributes are important to the development of my body, mind, and soul. I realized that I was not able or willing to call my life “normal”—what’s normal? But the other day, I realized that I had a number of days where I felt at peace, comfortable in my body, and clear in mind; the thought emerged that I felt “almost normal.”
What is “almost normal”? I’m still trying to figure that out. But I think it is comfortably accepting that many of the maladies that I now experience may be an integral part of my life moving forward; that numb feet and fingers, body pain as I juggle my medication may be part of my routine. And I can manage that. Almost normal means that there is space for new conditions that may show up and that I will do my best to integrate them with a minimum amount of complaining and angst. That rather than panic about my aging mind, I can notice when my thinking is strong and when it falters. That when I am fatigued, my thinking might be flawed. That when I work to maintain balance in much of what I do, my mind cooperates.
And finally, almost normal is my willingness to turn to G-d when I don’t have the answers, when I am uneasy about the future, and when I need comfort and peace.
I’m blessed to be almost normal.Published in Culture
I met a guy in his 40’s. Said to me that he had never had a headache in his life except for a few hangovers. Never! Aging is hard and Time is undefeated. Being grateful is the key to happiness.
Well I’m not going to say I’ve never had a hangover…
And your point is so very true, Don.
You say you are blessed to be able to say you are normal.
But you are also blessed with an uncanny honesty with which to examine your life & then put it on paper in a most extraordinary way.
Also, Happy May Day, Susan:
Thanks so much on all counts, Caroljoy
“Almost” is about as good as it gets. Normal is a baseline against which the various aspects of biological performance is compared but rarely aligned completely. “Almost” is great. I fear “rarely”. Its coming. I just don’t know when. And at some point I will find a new normal of the formerly functioning. Then I will be in perfect alignment with the baseline.
I had a professor I liked very much in college who was a speech instructor and a film aficionado. He was such a kind man. Dr. Dale Drum. He also collected the series of Oz books.
But I digress. I asked him once when I visited him at office hours what “normal” was. He felt there was really no such thing. The problem is that the yardstick keeps moving. In some ways, trying to be “normal” is not a good way to spend our time. But trying to be our true selves in alignment with our obligations to G-d and others is probably the best we can do. I think your assessment is spot on, too.
I have terrible food allergies, scoliosis and am a total klutz. I’ve had my worst mishaps and spills since turning 60 and we know things don’t heal as well as when we were younger and able to bounce back. So almost normal sounds good to me. I love your inspiration and honesty too. The spiritual is always ongoing and that seems to get better….. as the rest falls apart and goes to you know where in a handbasket…..
Thank you for your courage – it’s contagious!
Thanks, FSC! Sounds like your journey is similar to mine! Well done.
Very thoughtful and self-reflective post, Susan. Most appreciated. I lost a close relative this week. He was very close to 99 years old when he died. It was definitely time for him to go. I have been spending much more time at “old-age” residences lately. It’s not because I am visiting my parents anymore. They have been gone for a couple of decades…and they lived nice, long lives. No, now I am visiting friends/contemporaries. As such, my thoughts have begun including end-of-life issues. I am nearly 76 and, like you, Susan, have always thought of myself as being lucky healthwise. The thing about age is it comes on slowly but then advances very quickly. I know someone who lived in a “right to die” State. She contracted a terminal disease and was able to set the date of her death. I call that, “Bad luck-Good luck”. My dad died at the age of 91, in his own bed, after a night out with my wife and me, along with his brother, sister, and sister-in-law. I call that just plain old Good luck. So, for me, it’s the Golden Rule. I try to live every day without doing any harm.
A very thoughtful comment, too, cdor. Thanks for your kind words.
Susan, when you write about your own life you always seem to catch a thread of something I have in common with you – or maybe it’s just a common “human” thread. But you do trigger some introspection.
Actually “normal” has been much on my mind lately. After my recovery from cancer treatment, over 3 years ago now, I waited and waited for a return to normal. Well, you guessed it – no normal again for me. Extreme neuropathy in my feet and hands has been the chemo gift that keeps on giving. I’d say recovery from last year’s broken hip is pretty close to 95% so I’m grateful for that But I really think creeping age is possibly the real culprit.
After my husband’s death last year I thought I’d never have much enjoyment in normal activities but that is slowly returning also. I’m looking forward to the future – not the same life but a new life. That may be as normal as it will ever be for me again but I am grateful for that also.
Maybe normal is like that personal truth the new generation talks about. Not “normal” but “my normal”.
We do share a lot in common, I think, Justme. Cancer treatment and its after effects are a big deal. And I’m so glad for you that you are finding a “new life.” And that you are grateful for it. Our “normals” may be different, but they both include gratitude. Thanks.